Tag Archives: terra nova

Should SF Be More Optimistic?

A panel at Chicon 7 discussed whether science fiction has become too pessimistic. Dystopian dramas such as The Road, The Walking Dead, and I Am Legend seem to dominate today’s market. Is this a reflection of current societal woes, or a more widespread sense of doom towards the future by writers and producers? What part do readers and audiences play in contributing to the popularity of these darker stories?

My feeling is that modern science fiction is no more or less optimistic than it has ever been. Classics such as Metropolis, Dr. Strangelove, and Blade Runner have often painted cautionary pictures of the future, warning us of what might be, not what will be. I would argue that dystopian SF is generally more thought-provoking than utopian SF. The best literature relies on conflict to propel characters to change and grow. Utopian societies are often bland and uninteresting.

Things like Buck Rogers and Star Trek are loved by millions for their optimistic visions of technological innovation and political harmony, but even they have conflict to drive their stories. They are often criticized for their naïvety, too.

Taking a look at this year’s Hugo Award nominees, I see optimistic stories far outnumbering the dystopias. Among the novels, Deadline is really the only dystopia, and even it has an underlying optimism that says society will learn to deal with a zombie apocalypse with new medical testing and security technologies. Among the dramatic presentations, Game of Thrones could possibly be considered a pessimistic fantasy universe, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows certainly has some very dark moments before the forces of good spectacularly triumph over the forces of evil.

Last year saw pessimistic films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Contagion, but they were more than countered by generally optimistic offerings such as Source Code, Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Thor, Cowboys and Aliens, and Paul.

Science fiction TV has been dominated for several years by Doctor Who, the ultimate in optimism. Battlestar Galactica was certainly dark, but depicted the eventual triumph of humans. I think one reason Terra Nova failed was that audiences were not attracted to a world where running away from a dystopian society was encouraged rather than staying and working to improve it. Meanwhile, shows like Eureka, Alphas, and Warehouse 13 continue to offer lighthearted SF adventure.

To me, no matter how dark or depressing a science fiction story is, there is a fundamental optimism inherent in all science fiction. After all, science fiction (at least the majority that’s set in the future) imagines that there will be a future for mankind. You can’t get much more optimistic than that!

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For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 11, 2012. Members (as of January 31, 2012) of Renovation, Chicon 7, or LoneStarCon 3 are eligible to nominate. For the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, I have compiled a list of productions that are eligible to be nominated this year. It is a long list, and undoubtedly not comprehensive. My purpose is to remind nominators that there are worthy productions that do not have Doctor Who or Game of Thrones in their names.

I’ve listed the titles of individual episodes because the Hugo rules require individual episodes to be nominated. A multi-part production such as Game of Thrones or Torchwood: Miracle Day can be nominated in the Long Form category if nominators feel that the mini-series should be taken as a whole, rather than as individual episodes. The dividing line between Short Form and Long Form is 90 minutes running time, but may be adjusted slightly one way or another if a majority of nominators place a borderline work in the other category.

I haven’t made up my mind what I’m going to nominate, other than I will definitely be nominating The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a terrific short film (available as a free download from iTunes). My expectation is that one or more episodes of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones will be nominated no matter what, so I will use my nominations for more obscure works that can fill in the remaining slots.

For your consideration:

Adam And Dog (Short Film) [winner of the Annie Award for Best Animated Short]

Adventure Time (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Mystery Trainx

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Alphas (TV Series)
Episode: Original Sin

American Horror Story (TV Series)
Episode: Smoldering Children

The Ballad Of Nessie (Short Film)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold (TV Series)
Episode: Mitefall!

Batman: Year One (Direct-to-Video) [nominated for an Annie Award]

Being Human (TV Series)
Episode: Though the Heavens Fall

Ben 10: Ultimate Alien (TV Series)
Episode: Prisoner #775 Is Missing

The Big Bang Theory (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: The Good Guy Fluctuation

Camelot (TV Series)
Episode: Reckoning

Community (TV Series)
Episode: Remedial Chaos Theory [a humorous take on parallel dimensions]

Doctor Who (TV Series)
Episode: The Doctor’s Wife

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Eureka (TV Series)
Episode: One Giant Leap…

The Event (TV Series)
Episode: Arrival

The Fades (TV Series)
Episode: Episode #1.4

Falling Skies (TV Series)
Episode: What Hides Beneath

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore(Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award]

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Fringe (TV Series)
Episode: The Day We Died

Futurama (TV Series)
Episode: All The President’s Heads

Game of Thrones (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Baelor

Generator Rex (TV Series)
Episode: Ben 10/Generator Rex Heroes United

Green Lantern: The Animated Series (TV Series) [nominated for an Annie Award]
Episode: Beware My Power, Parts 1 and 2

Grimm (TV Series)
Episode: Danse Macabre

Haven (TV Series)
Episode: Sins of the Fathers

Hoops & Yoyo Ruin Christmas (TV Special) [nominated for an Annie Award]

I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat (Short Film) [nominated for an Annie Award]

La Luna (Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award and an Annie Award]

Lost Girl (TV Series)
Episode: Barometz. Trick. Pressure

The Mercury Men (Web Series)
Episode: The Battery

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Merlin (TV Series)
Episode: The Darkest Hour, Parts 1 and 2

A Morning Stroll (Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award]

No Ordinary Family (TV Series)
Episode: No Ordinary Powell

Once Upon a Time (TV Series)
Episode: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Outcasts (TV Series)
Episode: Episode #1.4

Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice (TV Special) [nominated for an Annie Award]

Primeval (TV Series)
Episode: Episode #4.1

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Robot Chicken (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Robot Chicken’s DP Christmas Special

Sanctuary (TV Series)
Episode: Into the Black

The Simpsons (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Treehouse of Horror XXII

Smallville (TV Series)
Episode: Finale

Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II (Web Series)
Episode: Enemy: Starfleet!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TV Series)
Episode: Carnage of Krell

Stargate Universe (TV Series)
Episode: Gauntlet

Steins;Gate (TV Series)
Episode: Prologue to the Beginning and End

South Park (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Crack Baby Athletic Association

Sunday (Dimanche) (Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award]

Supernatural (TV Series)
Episode: The French Mistake

Teen Wolf (TV Series)
Episode: Code Breaker

Terra Nova (TV Series)
Episode: Resistance

Thundercats (TV Series)
Episode: New Alliances

Torchwood (TV Series)
Episode: Miracle Day: The New World

Transformers Prime (TV Series)
Episode: One Shall Rise, Parts 1, 2, and 3

True Blood (TV Series)
Episode: You Smell Like Dinner

Ugly Americans (TV Series)
Episode: Callie and Her Sister

V (TV Series)
Episode: Mother’s Day

The Vampire Diaries (TV Series)
Episode: The Reckoning

The Venture Bros. (TV Series)
Episode: From the Ladle to the Grave: The Shallow Gravy Story

The Walking Dead (TV Series)
Episode: Pretty Much Dead Already

Warehouse 13(TV Series)
Episode: Emily Lake

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Wolverine (TV Series)
Episode: Kikyo

Terra Nova

Terra Nova
“Genesis” written by Kelly Marcel, Craig Silverstein, Brannon Braga, and David Fury; directed by Alex Graves

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Fox’s new dinosaur drama has a bit of everything: a bit of Blade Runner, a bit of Stargate, a lot of Jurassic Park, a substantial amount of every soap opera ever produced, and an almost unlimited amount of commercials.

Jason O’Mara plays Jim Shannon, a cop who plays by his own rules in the year 2149. Shelley Conn plays Dr. Elizabeth Shannon, his wife, with Landon Liboiron as their brooding son Josh, Naomi Scott as their brainiac daughter Maddy, and Alana Mansour as their precocious daughter Zoe. The trouble is, with rampant pollution and declining resources, families are restricted by law to two children. Jim is imprisoned for resisting arrest when the government finds Zoe, but manages to break out of his maximum-security prison and break into the maximum-security time travel station just in time to pick up stowaway Zoe and join the rest of the family emigrating back 85 million years to join a human colony trying to build a new society. There they meet Terra Nova’s irascible leader Nathaniel Taylor, played by Stephen Lang. That’s just the first fifteen minutes.

Jim gets a slap on the wrist, because after all, the time rift is one-way, and they’re down a man in the gardening department. After the usual adjustment period of, oh, about an hour, Jim gets startled by a giant worm and Zoe wanders off and has fun hand feeding the giant herbivore dinosaurs that just happen to be munching outside the compound’s fence. Josh, feeling depressed because he had to leave his girlfriend behind, immediately hooks up with hottie Skye (Allison Miller) and her band of nonconformist friends as they sneak outside the fence to go swimming and drinking in the Restricted Zone.

Of course the teens are attacked by carnivorous dinos, while at just the same moment, rebels attack Terra Nova. Luckily, the dinos’ hearts don’t seem to be into it and the kids survive with all their limbs intact, albeit with a few scratches, and they come home to lots of hugs and kisses. And the rebels manage a peaceful prisoner exchange and drive off. But Jim holds a gun really well, and even manages to save Taylor from a rampaging dino, so Taylor makes him a security officer and then info dumps lots of confidential information to him that hint at Big Mysteries to come.

We probably should have known there was trouble in Terra Nova land when the pilot got pushed back from last May, and most of the writing staff got laid off. The pilot was recut to emphasize the family drama aspect and to downplay the dinosaur action. Because, hey, who wants to watch that messy Sci-Fi stuff in a show about time travel and dinosaurs?

The real problem with Terra Nova is that it is a rip-off of a British series called Outcasts shown on BBC America this summer. Humans fleeing a dying Earth to form a new society? Check. Human colony cut off from everything they’ve known? Check. Colony set in an inhospitable world? Check. Colony faces attacks by elemental forces? Check (dinosaurs in Terra Nova, violent sand storms in Outcasts). Exiled humans living in the wilderness? Check. Head exile has some mysterious relationship to the colony’s leader? Check. Exiles have resources the colony needs, and the colony has supplies the exiles can trade for? Check. Strange artifacts found in the wilderness that may challenge everything the authorities told you about this world? Check. Colony run by an authoritative leader with the help of a female doctor and a freethinking security officer? Check. Rebellious child makes trouble? Check. Off-world humans attempt to use colony for their own selfish purposes? Check (according to descriptions of upcoming episodes). Dull-as-dirt pilot episode turns into fairly engaging series filled with sociopolitical and religious themes that make you think? Time will tell, but I won’t hold my breath.

Terra Nova has potential; hopefully the producers are smart enough to know where to tweak it (it’s the dinosaurs, stupid) and Fox will give them enough time to transform it into a hit. Otherwise, it’ll join Firefly, Flash Forward, and a myriad of other could-have-beens in the discount DVD bin.